October, 1867: A group of young women attends a voice class at one of the first music conservatories in the United States. Called the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, it operates out of a single rented room at Miss Nourse’s School for Young Ladies, a finishing school in Walnut Hills.
October, 2017: Following collaborations, evolutions and unprecedented growth, the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music — the present iteration of the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music — celebrates the 150th anniversary of its founding with an ambitious sesquicentennial season and a year of special events.
A Singular Sensation
If the College-Conservatory of Music were to stage the story of its history, the play would open with a single woman leading students from behind the keys of a piano in a rented Walnut Hills classroom. Her name? Clara Baur, a 31-year-old music lover from Stuttgart, Germany whose Cincinnati Conservatory of Music would become one of the most renowned music schools in the world.
“Clara Baur had this idea of trying to create a conservatory where the faculty would create a kind of family-like environment for the students,” says CCM Interim Dean Bruce McClung. “One-hundred-and-fifty years later, we still talk about the ‘CCM family.’ In many ways, she not only founded the school — her idea is very much about what a conservatory could be and is still imprinted on the way we do things.”
The conservatory was one of four in the United States when it was established in 1867, but it was the first to be founded by a woman, according to McClung. Baur originally came to Cincinnati at the age of 13 to “keep house” for her two elder brothers, McClung says; she later returned to Europe to take classes in voice and piano — lessons she would bring back to Cincinnati and use as the bones of the conservatory.
But in 1873, an event was held that would catalyze staunch competition to the school. A group of visionaries led by violinist and conductor Theodore Thomas — who later became the first conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra — organized Cincinnati’s inaugural May Festival, a choral celebration that today spans the course of two weeks. The event was such a success that it prompted the construction of the largest concert hall in America: Music Hall.
Along with a group of May Festival founders, businessmen Reuben Springer and George Ward Nichols established the College of Music of Cincinnati in 1878 and named Thomas its first director. Classes were initially held in Dexter Hall on the third floor of Music Hall and were attended by about 500 day and evening students.
“So here you have a single 31-year-old woman who started a conservatory, and 11 years later some of the most wealthy businessmen (in Cincinnati) opened a rival institution,” McClung says.
In response to that competition, Baur moved her conservatory from Miss Nourse’s in 1902 and into the former Shillito family mansion in Mount Auburn. At the time, the school boasted an enrollment of 1,000 students and 30 faculty members, including some of the most well-known musicians of the time.
And Then There was One
Baur served as the sole director of her conservatory — without taking a salary — for 45 years until her death in 1912, at which point her niece, Bertha Baur, was appointed. Bertha led the conservatory in a new direction, turning it into a nonprofit organization called the Cincinnati Institute of Fine Arts. She served as president emeritus until her death in 1940.
Meanwhile, the College of Music was thriving. According to CCM historical documents, it moved into a permanent building in 1884 called The Odeon, located on Elm Street in Over-the-Rhine. It contained a 1,500-seat theater and 24 practice rooms and was one of the first schools in America with its own concert hall.
In 1936, the college founded the first American collegiate broadcast department, headed by WLW staff musician Uberto Templeton Neely. Cincinnati’s WLW began experimenting with broadcasting at 500 kilowatts in 1934, using more power and transmitting over more miles than any other radio station in the country had done before — or ever would.
The College of Music’s unique offering of a broadcasting department was implemented during a time when radio was rapidly evolving and gaining widespread popularity, and 10 years later, the school began granting Bachelors of Fine Arts in Radio Broadcasting.
With Baur’s conservatory suffering poor enrollment and significant financial struggles, it became clear that merging the two powerful Cincinnati institutions was imminent. That merge took place in 1955, when the conservatory and college combined to become the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music.
Seven years later, CCM officially became the 14th and final college at the University of Cincinnati.
Back to the Future
A century and a half after Baur established her conservatory, the College-Conservatory of Music is one of the top music schools in the world. It hosts nearly 1,000 events per year — from solo recitals to fully staged theatrical performances — and offers nine degrees in more than 100 possible majors, including electronic media, ballet and makeup and wig design.
Combined undergrad and graduate enrollment nears 1,500 annually, and McClung says this year’s student population represents 32 countries and 43 states.
CCM graduates go on to acquire positions in nearly every entertainment-related field, from performing in Broadway shows to writing and directing to designing makeup for movies and television — and a significant part of the sesquicentennial season is reconnecting with that “CCM family.”
“Throughout our sesquicentennial planning, we’ve said our mission with the anniversary is to honor CCM’s history, celebrate our present and look forward to our future,” says Becky Butts, CCM assistant public information officer. “For me, a key part of CCM’s anniversary season is how we are reconnecting with CCM alumni — who represent our past, present and future.”
The season culminates April 21, 2018 with an event called the Sesquicentennial Alumni Showcase, when CCM alumni return to the school to perform alongside current students. Those participating have not yet been announced.
“Reconnecting with alumni not only brings exciting performances to Cincinnati, but it also give current CCM students opportunities to learn from professional artists and make connections for their future careers,” Butts says.
The sesquicentennial features myriad performances and special events in a variety of fields, including winds, piano, Jazz, choral, percussion and many others.
McClung says he is particularly looking forward to the 15th-annual installment of Moveable Feast, a sampling of performances in everything from musical theater to E-media. The Jan. 19, 2018 event concludes with a dance featuring CCM alum Brian Newman, who is now the bandleader for Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett.
McClung also mentions an orchestra performance called Con Amore: From CCM with Love, a special concert program that celebrates the more than 600 couples who met their partners while students at CCM.
“That’s something we’re looking forward to that’ll be kind of like a piece of the sesquicentennial that will continue in the future,” he says. “So we’ll do this concert every season to celebrate all the couples who met here at CCM.”
And that’s just a nominal portion of what the sesquicentennial has to offer. Other highlights include Feast of Carols, performances of holiday favorites by the CCM Chamber Choir, UC Men’s and Women’s Choruses and other choral groups (Dec. 2-3); Celebrate Youth (March 18, 2018), commemorating the Cincinnati Children’s Choir’s 25th anniversary; and the annual-favorite PRISM concert, which features performers from CCM Preparatory (March 25, 2018).
Beyond the Sesquicentennial
Despite CCM’s expansive list of achievements and milestones, the college isn’t finished growing. A $15 million infrastructure project including upgrades to performance spaces is expected to be completed by December of this year, according to Curt Whitacre, CCM director of marketing and communications.
“These renovations are the birthday gift that keeps on giving,” he says. “We are updating the theater technology and audio/video systems in all of our major performance spaces, which allows students to continue to learn on the same kind of equipment that they will find in the professional realm.”
Upgrades include the implementation of fiber optic cables in all major performance spaces, which will allow events to be live-streamed, and the installation of new seating and carpeting to improve audience members’ experience.
It’s a fitting birthday gift for a school that’s provided a century-and-a-half’s worth of world-class performances and education — one that, located at the epicenter of the city, has greatly contributed to Cincinnati’s rich cultural history, McClung says.
And it all started with a single woman driven by a passion for music, igniting the spark behind one of the premiere music institutions in the world.
For more information about CCM’S SESQUICENTENNIAL SEASON and a full list of events and performances, visit ccm.uc.edu.